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Bright Minds Battle Their ‘Bots At Minnesota State Fair

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FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. (WCCO) – The brightest minds at the State Fair on Friday could be found in the back corner of the Education Building showing off their 100-pound, made-from-scratch robots.

Fergus Falls junior David Grotberg shows off his teams' robot, Ottermus Prime. (credit: CBS)

Fergus Falls junior David Grotberg shows off his teams’ robot, Ottermus Prime. (credit: CBS)

Precocious ingenuity collides with full-on nerdery for the High School Robotics Competition, as the science class savants from Mahtomedi, Becker and Fergus Falls showed off what six weeks of electrical engineering, innovative 3-D printers and zealous ambition can create.

If you assumed that some of these students are the kind of intellectual shooting stars who’ll be attending MIT and studying astrophysics, well, you’d be spot on — Fergus Falls junior David Grotberg aims to do just that.

If you expected Transformers puns to be used as a robots’ moniker, i.e. Ottermus Prime, you’d also be correct.

The three schools’ robots boasted such must-see talent that a 50-person crowd packed two bleachers to witness Fergus Falls’ 97-pound machine ascend a 10-foot metal jungle gym.

About 50 spectators packed two stands for the robotics competition. (credit: CBS)

About 50 spectators packed two stands for the robotics competition. (credit: CBS)

Mahtomedi’s Zbot weighed in at 119.9 pounds and could fling Frisbees via a flywheel into a slot the size of a small door with nearly 100 percent accuracy.

“We have a fab lab – a fabrication lab – at our school,” senior Harrison Post said, who drove his team’s robot on Friday from an Xbox controller while other teams used joysticks. “And we’re the only school in the state that does.”

The Mahtomedi team with its robot. (credit: CBS)

The Mahtomedi team with its mechanical creation. (credit: CBS)

Becker’s 145-pound Liberty Xcelerator was specifically designed to try and render robots like Mahtomedi’s useless in one-on-one battles, as its vertical frame — outfitted with snazzy tarp — smothers shot attempts with ease.

All three schools built their bots in six weeks’ time beginning back in January for the state high school competition at the U of M. Each squad had varying success, but Becker came out on top back in the spring, claiming a state crown.

The Becker team and their state-champion robot. (credit: CBS)

The Becker team and their state-champion robot Liberty Xcelerator. (credit: CBS)

“We won the Rookie All-Star Award, too — this was our school’s very first year creating a robot,” he said.

The Becker bot won the regional competition also, and advanced to take on the world’s best in St. Louis, though the team didn’t fare as well at the international level.

One of the only rules at the robot competition? Turn off your Wi-Fi.

Though the robots can operate autonomously, there’s also a driver-led event that operates the robots wirelessly.

Friday’s showcase at the fair was the work of late Dave Manninen. His wife, Sharon, is the assistant superintendent of technology education at the fair.

“He started bringing in robots about five years ago,” she said. “He even added a parking challenge at the end. We were going to do away with it this year, but the kids protested that we didn’t.”

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